NJ To Lift COVID-19 Indoor Mask Order, With Some Exceptions
Gov. Murphy announced that people won't have to wear masks indoors or outdoors or social distance anymore, with some exceptions.
Posted Mon, May 24, 2021 at 1:10 pm ETUpdated Tue, May 25, 2021 at 7:05 am ET
NEW JERSEY — New Jersey residents and visitors can stop wearing masks in certain indoor areas starting later this week, Gov. Phil Murphy announced at a Monday news conference. He also is lifting the 6-foot social distancing requirement.
Starting Friday, people will be permitted to enter restaurants, stores and other indoor spaces in New Jersey without face coverings. Friday will also see the lift of the 6-foot social distancing requirement in all indoor and outdoor settings. Businesses can continue to require social distancing should they choose.
And although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention only recommends that vaccinated people may toss their face masks and stop adhering to social distancing guidelines, Murphy said the state is asking people for "personal responsibility."
"If you're not vaccinated, we expect you to have a higher standard of care, both in wearing a mask and in social distancing," the governor said. "Who are we to ask the retail store employee … to be judge and jury on who is vaccinated and who is not?"
Dance floors and bars and restaurants will also be reopened and all indoor gathering limits will be lifted on June 4.
Monday's announcement served as a steep reversal of direction from the administration, which maintained as of last week that New Jersey is not ready to adopt the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's guidelines and lift the state's indoor mask restrictions.
"I do not, for one minute, regret our taking these extra two weeks to ensure that the dramatic decreases we have begun seeing in both cases and hospitalizations would continue," Murphy said. "I do not regret listening to a host of medical and scientific experts including Dr. Tony Fauci who spoke of a need to be more cautious to prevent a backslide. If these past two weeks have pushed one more person to get vaccinated or saved one extra person from hospitalization or death, then we are all better off."
Murphy said the improving numbers, as well as the possibility of people leaving New Jersey to dine in New York and Pennsylvania where mask orders have already been lifted, compelled him to make the move.
"We are proud of the fact that we have always been guided by the science, the data, the facts and the actions that we are taking today are true to that. We've always targeted Memorial Day as when we'd hope to be able to take our strongest steps on the path back to a fully opened New Jersey," Murphy said.
Spaces where masks will continue to be required include health care and long-term care facilities, correctional facilities, homeless shelters, public transit (airplanes, buses, trains), transit hubs (airports, bus and train stations), public-facing state offices such as Motor Vehicle Commission agencies, and warehousing and manufacturing facilities.
"Even with this action, individual businesses and other entities that oversee indoor spaces may continue to require that employees, customers and/or guests wear face masks," Murphy said.
"We ask that you be respectful in adhering to these requirements where they do apply."
The executive order also won't extend to child care centers, youth summer camps, preschools, elementary schools and secondary schools (including charter and renaissance schools).
"This is for a simple reason: Children under the age of 12 are not yet eligible to be vaccinated, and while we're making very good progress with the 12-to-15-year cohort, they've only been eligible … for less than two weeks. For these younger populations, we're just not there yet," the governor said.
The governor also noted that those who may feel more comfortable wearing face masks either indoors or outdoors may continue to do so. However, while businesses can choose to continue to implement social distancing and face mask policies, they cannot implement policies barring individuals from wearing masks if they choose to.
"No one should mistake lifting the indoor mask mandate as meaning you cannot wear a mask indoors. You certainly may. There is nothing wrong with being cautious when it comes to your own health and that of your family and community. To be equally sure, we will not tolerate anyone being demeaned or bullied or excluded for wanting to continue to mask up … there will be consequences for 'mask-free shopping hours' and not allowing in people who do wear a mask. That will not be tolerated."
This is a developing story. Patch will have more information as it comes in.
Murphy, after a week of resisting pressure to change, decided that New Jersey will follow new guidelines developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that allowed vaccinated people to remove masks indoors and outdoors.
New Jersey was among very few states that hadn't had to reverse its mask orders after the CDC's changes. Murphy previously expressed reluctance because of the state's dense population and the fact that many people still remain unvaccinated
"I don't want to get burned. I don't want to go back," Murphy said last week. "We're the only state in America that has not gone back once, and I don't want to start now."
Rochelle Walensky, director of CDC, announced two weeks ago that "you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing before the pandemic" if you've been fully vaccinated. "We have all longed for this moment when we can get back to some sense of normalcy," Walensky said.
However, the CDC did say that Americans need to abide by "state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance" before changing their behavior.